The Sri Lankan railway line overwhelmed by the tsunami on Boxing Day was formally reopened yesterday as survivors of The Queen of the Sea, the train on which more than 1,000 people died, took a ceremonial trip on the restored line.
A new train, painted in bright blue and yellow livery, made a maiden 75-mile journey from the capital, Colombo, to the site of the disaster at Peraliya, passing battered carriages from the original Queen of the Sea. Colombo politicians and dignitaries on board the train visited a Buddhist temple to honour those who died.
Since the tsunami, the town of Peraliya has become a refugee camp still strewn with debris. Yesterday however, the new train was seen by many as a symbol of progress in extreme adversity.
Priyal de Silva, general manager of the state-run railways, said that a regular train service would not resume for some time, because the signalling system and track were not up to pre-tsunami standards. Some of the signalling between stations will be done manually.
For some locals, yesterday was still too early to board another train. The station manager, Nimal Premasiri, was on The Queen of the Sea with his family when the waves struck. He lost his wife and 18-year-old daughter.
"I'm not sure when I will be ready to go," he said. "I feel a terrible sense of loss and emptiness ... hard to explain. It was on a Sunday like this that we set off. We were so happy."
In Colombo, the former US presidents Bill Clinton and George Bush Snr arrived from Aceh to continue their fund-raising drive and show support for survivors. They met the President, Chandrika Kumaratunga, to discuss relief efforts before moving on to the Maldives.
President George Bush, who had drawn initial criticism for a paltry American aid donation of $15m (£8m) several days after the disaster, appointed his father and his political adversary to form a bipartisan task force to tap private and corporate donations from Americans. Even though some $7bn has been pledged by private donors and governments around the world, Mr Clinton said that a further $4bn would be needed to see through reconstruction and rehabilitation.
"This situation will not go away. We must keep it in the headlines and make sure efforts are co-ordinated and the money is well-spent," he told Thai villagers on Saturday.
The ex-presidents acknowledged that donors could clam up if they felt that money was being wasted or pocketed by corrupt officials. They said that Indonesia's President, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, had assured them that aid would find its target.
"Private donors do not want to hear that their money is going to waste and we don't anticipate that, certainly no corruption," Mr Bush said after meeting Mr Yudhoyono.
Mr Bush, flagging in the tropical heat, was shocked by the devastation near the earthquake's Indonesian epicentre. "I have never seen anything like it," he told reporters.Reuse content